March 1, 2013

the day that Hannah gave birth to her very first lamb

It's after midnight, but I feel like I need to get this story written down before it's all a haze after a good night's sleep. (It will be published on Friday the first of March, but I'm writing it down as if it's still February.) Let the tale commence. It's a long one...
Yesterday morning while feeding the sheep their morning grain, I noticed Hannah's udders had grown tremendously. I thought maybe it was the day... finally. But when evening fell and she came hobbling to the hay bin like she always does, I thought to myself that it must happen overnight. But when that didn't happen and she came for breakfast this morning, I was let down. Around three in the afternoon I heard them all baaing, letting me know I was a few minutes late bringing hay. My mind was wandering towards spring, as usual, and thinking that all of our lambs would end up being March babies, none born in February like I'd suspected. (Weeks and weeks of worrying, only to be foiled by a shortened month!)

I filled up the bucket with grain, darted over to the troughs, weaved my way through pig-like sheep, and suddenly realized that Hannah wasn't among them. I couldn't even believe it. I kept looking around thinking that I must be mistaken. But when I walked to the upper pasture, beneath the pine trees and the old wooden barn I saw her. There was a bulging, drooping, slimy clear mess coming out from behind, and her nose was in the air. She was panting and obviously having some pretty painful contractions. 

I immediately called Jamie to come home, and by the time he got here there was a little white hoof sticking out. I had set up fort near the well, about twenty feet away. Our neighbor Cherokee was dying from curiosity and tip-toed up to the barn to peek in on her. We did our best to communicate with glances so as not to make Hannah feel nervous. I got my supplies and a lambing book out ...the one from the library... and feverishly studied all the ways a lamb could present itself incorrectly and what to do in certain situations. I called our farmer friend Casey from Breezy Willow and listened to her own lambing stories. Nothing beats firsthand experience.

As some clouds rolled in, Jamie went to get some more hay to close in the lambing pen and we led Hannah to the barn inside so she'd be isolated from the other animals. I felt so badly for her. She was clearly in a lot of pain and every time she'd have a contraction her back would almost vibrate and she'd plop down in the most uncomfortable poses on her side.

I decided to investigate after awhile, and sure enough I found two little hooves and a nose all squished up together. Perfect position. I wanted to give Hannah the chance to birth this baby naturally, without any more intervention and we were starving but had nothing to eat in the house. Jamie ran and got some fried chicken down the street; but after 15 or 20 minutes it was clear that the head was too large for this first time mama and she was exhausted. My friend Rachel arrived around then, and was shocked to hear that Hannah was a sheep and not a human. We don't talk farm very often. 

I gorged some RoFo chicken (don't judge, it was the first time in nearly a year), washed up, doused my hands with iodine, and lathered them with Vaseline. The book said we'd need to use a lamb puller (or basically string) to tie on the legs and head to pull them out. I got some ready, but as soon as we put Hannah on her side and I started checking the situation out, I realized how impossible it was going to be to get a piece of string to stay put. Instead, I nudged the head out a bit more, quickly grabbed each leg, and tugged on them gently one after the other, in line with Hannah's own pushing. It happened so fast, but at the same time, the moment is frozen in my memory. Suddenly the head was out and the rest of the body was just a soft tug away. The baby came slipping out and I was terrified that it was dead. It was somewhat limp and long and gooey and absolutely covered in a film of slime! My heart soared when I felt it wiggling, and I grabbed the towel and rubbed it's face clean so it could breath. I heard some noises that resembled grunts, and could see the little nose breathing. 

Hannah immediately started licking the baby's head, which was a huge relief! I knew she'd be a great mother but I feel like I'll always wonder if there's an off-chance we'll have a mama reject her baby. I was so thankful that she accepted him. And speaking of him, it was around this time of great sighs and the neighbors all peering around with flashlights and phone cameras that we realized we hadn't found out the gender! At first I simply lifted the tail, thinking things would be nice and compact back there. But then when I lifted the legs, I had quite the surprise! It seems this little baby has inherited his papa Bill Murray's man-parts!

We sat there in awe of the whole thing, watching the baby take his first steps, watching him try with all of his might to find his mama's milk, watching our friend Harold's little boys stare in amazement (and goofy little boy-ness) at what was before them. It was hilarious hearing little snickers and commentary like, "it's trying to eat its BUTT. We should name it Mr. Buttcakes! No, JIMBOB!" (Sorry to any Jim-Bobs out there...)

After a bit, I helped the baby find the nipples and nurse. We went inside for the first time in hours and warmed our feet, then back out to double check that we'd unplugged the nipples properly. Check! I was a little obsessed with making sure the baby was wagging his tail while eating, and I patted his stomach to feel it full of warm milk. I cut up a sweater to make a little coat for him, and when I last checked in, I watched him walk right up to Hannah and happily nurse. She had also expelled the placenta which was a relief. I was worried about that taking so long. 

Well, my eyelids are drooping now so I suppose I'll leave it at that. Today was a completely full and amazing and perspective-altering day. I wouldn't trade it for anything.

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  1. That is SO exciting! He is so small! I am so happy everything worked out with no major complications. Have fun with this experience :)

  2. congrats!!
    I really enjoyed reading too - fried chicken and all :)

  3. I've been a year-long reader, first-time commenter . . . this story made me weepy at my desk at work! How amazing! The process of birth just stuns me, whether it is human or sheep. Congrats on your new little lamb, and I am excited to read about how he grows and contributes to your farm.

  4. What a great series of photos of an amazing experience. So, so cool. Baaaaaaa!!

  5. Hooray!! Congratulations. So amazing and beautiful!

  6. Sasha, thank you for those wishes! He's doing so well. You can come out to snuggle him anytime!

    Denise, haha the fried chicken was crucial. ;)

    Lisa, I'm so glad you've commented! Birth stuns me too. Every time I look at these pictures I'm shocked at how enormous this transition was for both baby and mama. (So sweet that you got weepy!)

    Adah, baaaa back to you! ;) I'm glad you liked the pictures. Of course my new camera's battery was dead that night, but thankfully I had the old backup!

    Jaimie, thank you! Are any of your animals expecting babies this spring? Don't you have goats?

  7. We do have goats, but decided not to breed them this year since I'm actually expecting! So, no animal babes, but a human one due in June ;)